Opening day of deer hunting season is like a major holiday for most hunters. We look forward to it like a kid looks forward to Christmas morning. Like a Christmas morning countdown, serious hunters start getting their gear in order well before the first day of the season.
Luck favors the prepared, so don’t wait until the night before the season opens to get your equipment in order. Along with practicing shooting skills, establishing shooting lanes, and scouting for big bucks, you need to start organizing your gear in advance. That advance preparation will allow you to hit the ground running on opening morning.
To help you out, we’ve compiled this list of our top gear picks for deer hunting. While you may need to modify the list according to your hunting style, local terrain, and the time of year, most hunters will benefit from this basic lineup.
Unless you plan to throw rocks at passing deer, your weapon is your most important piece of hunting gear. Choosing a weapon for deer hunting is a very personal choice. There is no one perfect weapon for every deer hunter. However, here are a few basic options to get you started.
The Remington Model 700 may be the most popular deer rifle on the market today. A great all-around rifle for whitetails, the Model 700 is accurate, reliable, and well within the price range of budget conscious hunters.
If you do most of your hunting from a tree stand or ground blind, you’ll appreciate how quickly the Remington Seven maneuvers in close quarters.
For areas that restrict hunting whitetails with rifles, a dedicated slug gun like the Winchester SX4 Buck will quickly become your new best friend. This gun has a 22--inch rifled barrel and adjustable rifle-style fiber optic sights. With features like that, you might just forget you’re hunting with a shotgun.
Also, be sure to check out our guide, WHAT IS THE BEST RIFLE CALIBER FOR DEER
No discussion of hunting rifles would be complete without at least a cursory mention of optics. The right rifle scope will enhance accuracy and increase your effective range. However, choosing the right scope is no easy task. You need to consider your rifle’s caliber and action, as well as scope magnification, power, aperture, size, and weight.
No one scope is going to be perfect for every deer hunter. You need to consider probable shot distance, ease of use, and necessary eye relief. If you hunt remote destinations, you probably should also consider the extra weight you gain and maneuverability you might lose by adding a scope to your deer rifle.
Your firearm is pretty much useless without ammunition, so be sure to carry enough to load your weapon, plus some extra rounds “just in case.”
Thanks to modern advancements in technology, modern deer hunters have access to some of the most reliable, effective and devastating ammunition the world has ever seen. Science has allowed manufacturers to create loads that deliver incredible accuracy and bullet designs that perform perfectly at any distance.
If you like to be on the cutting-edge of ammo development, Federal Premium’s Berger Hybrid Hunter is some of the best to hit the market in 2019. These hybrid projectiles combine the best qualities of match and hunting ammo to produce effective terminal performance and pinpoint accuracy in one complete package. Don’t be fooled by the elk on the box, these flat-shooting, low drag bullets are perfect for big whitetails.
Marketing gurus are pretty effective at convincing the average deer hunter that modern, more expensive ammunition is better. However, the average whitetail hasn’t changed much over the years. Some traditional styles of ammunition are just as effective on modern whitetails as they were on deer 80 years ago.
In 1939, Remington released their Core-Lokt line of hunting ammo. Since then, these traditional soft points have probably killed more whitetails than any other bullet. Remington Core-Lokt ammunition is just as relevant today as it was when it was first developed. Not only are these loads highly effective, they are also surprisingly affordable.
Whitetail deer have wonderful noses. Those nostrils aren’t short-range weapons, either. Under the right conditions, a big buck can detect human scent from more than a half mile away. So, if you want to get a decent shot on a trophy, you’re going to have to fool his nose.
When you can, eliminate human odor starting at the source. A clean body is important, but you don’t want to use conventional soaps and body washes that contain plenty of stinky chemicals and fragrances. Instead, start with a scent elimination body wash like Scent Killer Liquid Soap, and then add Bio-Strike Antiperspirant to keep the smells at bay. These products are designed to neutralize human odors and provide extended protection while you’re in the field.
You can also use a scent designed to attract deer. It could be just the thing to peak a buck’s attention and lure him into shooting range. Trail’s End #307 is perfect for the entire hunting season, since it works before, during, and after the rut.
Hunters have been using calls to lure deer into range for thousands of years. Designed to mimic various deer vocalizations, deer calls can grab the attention of a passing buck and steer him in to investigate. Deer calls come in various shapes and sizes. Some work best during the rut. Others work all season long. Some will bring in the big boys, while others work just as well on does.
Here are a few of our favorites:
The ProLine Line Bucgrunter is easy to use and makes a pretty convincing buck grunt. Primos has long been the king of game calls. “The Great Big Can” mimics the quivering bleat of a doe in estrus. While designed to bring in rutting bucks, I’ve had plenty of curious does come in to investigate, too. Hay’s Two Way Fawn Bleat simulates a fawn in distress. These work like magic on big does. The call is also known for stopping moving deer dead in their tracks, giving you ample time to draw a bead and make a clean shot.
Even if you think you can find your way around in the woods blindfolded, you should still carry a good flashlight with fresh batteries. Getting turned around, even in familiar territory,is easy, especially after the sun goes down. We love a good headlamp like the one from Enduro. It keeps your hands free while you move through the woods and it comes in camo. However, any reliable flashlight will do the trick.
While having something to sip and nibble when bored out of your mind on a deer stand is important, these two things could save your life if you ever get lost in the woods.
Not only will a compass help you find your way back to the truck if you get lost, it will also help you track wounded deer. Just make sure you know how to use one. Don’t think you can rely on your smartphone GPS, either. Phones lose battery power and connectivity with frightening regularity.
Eventually you’re going to get lucky, and then you’ll need a knife to field dress and skin your deer. Make sure the blade you have is sturdy and sharp. Choose a knife with a blade at least four inches long (preferably a fixed blade) with a large, non-slip handle. Field dressing is messy business, and a knife that slips around in blood-covered hands might end up covered in yours.
Space is limited, so we haven’t listed everything you need for a successful hunting trip. Don’t forget the common sense necessities like sturdy boots, weather-appropriate hunting clothes, and a quality backpack.
It really doesn’t matter if your plan is to shoot a big buck for your wall or a doe to fill the freezer, the right gear can make or break your opening day. A little preparation and forethought will increase your chances of filling a tag.
Credit: Alice Jones Webb
Alice Jones Webb is a writer, long-time hunter, experienced shooter, and mother of four up-and-coming outdoor and shooting enthusiasts. She grew up flinging arrows and bullets at Virginia whitetails, turkey, and game birds, although her favorite hunting experience is chasing bull elk in the Colorado back country. Never content to sit still and look pretty, she is also a self-defense instructor and competitive archer. Alice currently resides in rural North Carolina with her children, non-hunting husband, and a well-stocked chest freezer.