A Bowhunters’ Backpack: Don’t Leave Home Without These Items!
By Shawn and Kristi O’Connor
Louis Pasteur, the brilliant 19th century French chemist and inventor of pasteurization, coined the phrase, “fortune favors the prepared mind.”
What does that have to do with a bowhunters backpack?
Well, lets just say I spent a good number of years ignoring that advice before I was “wise” enough to heed it. It never fails; you spend all day in the stand, hoping for just one opportunity. Then it happens, when the light is fading, and suddenly the opportunity is upon you. You execute the shot and your dream is realized. Once the euphoria wears off, realization suddenly sets in. It’s a long way back to the truck and by the time I get there to retrieve my knife and supplies, it will be dark. I’m going to have to find and field dress this thing in the dark. How will I load it onto the back of the truck by myself? It’s scenarios like these that led me to create my bowhunter’s backpack and field dressing kit.
At the beginning of each fall, I gather all the necessary supplies and throw them in my pack to keep with me wherever I hunt. It’s portable, lightweight and includes only the most important items to have within reach while waiting for the perfect shot and then to quickly dress a deer.
My backpack essentials include:
Have you ever dropped your release from the stand? Even worse forgot it at home or lost on the way to your stand? Everyone has at one time or another misplaced, dropped, or forgotten to bring their release. Now imagine Mr. Big is approaching and you don’t have one the most critical tools to make the shot. Having a duplicate release is a good habit to get into. You just never know when your primary release will fail or you leave it back in the bow case at the truck.
Always use a hoist to lift all your gear in and out of the stand! Never wear your bow or backpack while climbing up or down the tree. Your body may not be able to control the extra weight if something should go wrong, and you want two hands free for safety. About any rope will work for a hoist. I like to use a thicker rope with a carbineer, so I can simply click it to my backpack and bow. This allows me to secure my gear quietly and quickly, and the thicker rope prevents the line from digging into my hands when hoisting or lowering.
Binoculars in my opinion are worth their weight in gold in terms of whitetail hunting, yet I always see plenty of hunters that don’t utilize them. Binoculars allow you to extend you vision tenfold and can really come in handy making out deer in dense cover. I like ten-power binoculars. Some guys prefer eight-power for the wider field of view. Whichever you may prefer it is wise to use a pair.
When purchasing a pair of binoculars you want a quality pair, especially in low light conditions so you can accurately identify deer in cover. The old adage “you get what you pay for” never rings truer than in optics. Think of it this way, would you rather have a low budget pair of binoculars that you will replace every season or a pair that lasts you ten seasons or longer, not to mention the components of the higher priced binoculars will be head and shoulders above the cheaper sets. In the end you will spend the same amount of money so you might as way take the plunge on a good set.
Your binoculars should be at the ready the entire hunt. I like to use the binocular buddy, this keeps my binoculars secured to my chest and out of the bowstring, and I can instantly raise them up to investigate.
A grunt tube is a must have in the bag item for bowhunters. While I don’t use this call all of the time I always like to have it ready. It serves a couple of purposes for me. The first is I will use a grunt tube to stop a deer in motion that I would like to shoot…if you do this just make sure the tube is around your neck so you can simply drop it once you make the grunt. Secondly I will use this call during the stages of the rut to call in mature bucks looking for a fight or simply to perk their curiosity.
No matter if you are big into calls or not, I would suggest never leaving home without a rattle pack of some sort at least during late October and November. Bucks of all sizes can come into a mock fight at any moment…and many of bowhunters have rattled in some true giants. Remember that rattling needs to sound authentic, used sparingly, and during the right time of the season.
If you are more of a real antlers fan for rattling rather than the synthetic products on the market there are some really nice backpacks on the market today that cater to holding your rattling antlers, which is nice because the real antlers can be a bit tricky to carry to your stand. Check out the back pack in our lead photo of this article, GamePlan Backpacks have a perfect example of this in their Full Rut Rattling model.
I use a wind checker constantly. There are many types on the market, but I prefer a powder that floats on the wind current to indicate direction. I use it every half hour to make sure the wind hasn’t changed on me. On more than one occasion I’ve changed stands after seeing the wind changed to an undesirable direction.
I tuck one of these in my pack to clear a stray limb that might impede my shooting line. I like a compact unit that folds in half. I’ve used several types in the past, and all broke after a season or two. Then I came across the Wicked Tree Saw. This thing is built for abuse and is one fine piece of equipment. Their Tree Pack saw comes with a case that conveniently attaches to your backpack. It’s a great saw; they even have the saw in a pole pruning version.
I always keep a couple SD cards in my pack just in case I want to change out the cards in my trail cameras. Be sure they’re the correct size and type for your cameras. I find it convenient to change out my camera cards as I’m on my way in or out of the stand.
On more than one occasion I have had to use an Allen wrench while in the stand. You never know when this tiny tool might come in handy to tighten a loose screw on your bow or stand.
Scent Eliminator Spray
It is a good idea to carry a bottle of your favorite scent eliminator spray. While many of us spray down before we walk to the stand it is wise to spray down again once we get to the stand. Walking equals sweating, and as we all know sweating produces human odor…not a good thing in the deer stand. Keep a bottle handy and use as needed.
I like to use some sort of product that provides a natural scent found in the timber. Popular scents include fresh earth, pine needles, acorns, and even deer dander. There are a ton of products on the market to choose from. I like Hunters Specialties Scent Wafers that simply pin on to your clothing.
Extra Tree Harness Strap
Just like releases these can easily be forgotten or lost and sitting in a treestand without being attached to the tree is flirting with disaster. You owe it to yourself and family to pack and extra strap and stay safe at all times.
While it is not absolutely necessary to carry a range finder it is a pretty essential thing to have in your pack. Especially if you either struggle at ranging distances by the naked eye or if you don’t have pre ranged spots marked in the area of your stand. Having a range finder handy can let you know precisely what the shot needs to be. The error of a few yards could be the difference in you eating back straps or tag soup.
It probably goes without saying, but a flashlight is a must have tool in the bag. While I don’t use a flashlight walking to and from my stands unless I absolutely have to. I will use one to find objects in my bag when light is not available. I also like to use a flashlight when I am getting ready at the vehicle. When I get to my parking site I will always turn off the truck and lights to not bring attention to my location…having a flashlight available to see what you are doing is an added benefit. In addition to helping you find what you need a flashlight comes in useful when tracking a deer after the sun has went down. Later in this article I mention a headlamp as well, while you don’t need both items it is wise to carry an extra light source when tracking.
It is always important to have something to snack on and drink while on the stand…especially those long hunts. If you are hungry or dehydrated you will be more apt to focus on those distractions instead of on the hunt…not to mention it isn’t safe to let yourself get dehydrated anyways. Pack some jerky, granola bars, trail mix, water, or Gatorade.
Field Dressing Kit
In a separate plastic baggie, I gather the following items for my field dressing kit. I place this baggie in my pack, and I’m ready to dress a deer at a moment’s notice. My field dressing kit consists of:
The kind that come in the small foil packs, like you would get when you visit a BBQ rib joint. You can find them at any pharmacy. The wipes are used to clean up your knife, saw and you after the job is done. You’ll also be glad you have them when nature calls out in the woods.
I keep several pairs of these in my kit. If I have a buddy helping me, I’ve got an extra set for him to use. I like the nitrile gloves because they are puncture resistant and don’t tear easily. They are also latex free, so if I have a buddy borrowing a pair, I don’t have to worry about him having a reaction if he is allergic to latex. When done field dressing I take off one glove, place it in the palm of my other hand that still has the glove on, place any trash in my palm and then remove the remaining glove by turning it inside out. This keeps the trash together and enables me to pack out the trash and dispose of it properly. The gloves also pull double duty, the same way the sanitizing wipes do. No sense getting your hands dirty, especially when you packed a lunch for the all-day sit and you’ll be eating later in the day.
A good headlamp is an invaluable tool. I like headlamps that utilize LED’s for illumination, this way I don’t have to worry about the bulb burning out. The headlamp can be used walking in to your stand in the morning or during blood trailing. While field dressing, it puts light right where you want it and keeps both of your hands free. I also like to select headlamps that use the same size battery as my trail cameras. If the battery goes dead on the headlamp, all I have to do is go to my nearest camera and “borrow” a battery.
Surgically sharp knife
The key to a quick field dressing is to use a sharp knife, and I mean surgically sharp blade. I’ve tried many different types of knives over the years. They all did the job but the problem was that the knife didn’t stay sharp for long, and I’m just not gifted when it comes to sharpening knives. Not to mention the fact that I hate doing it and view it as a complete waste of my time.
In my never-ending quest to locate the perfect knife, I believe I have finally found it. The Piranta from Havalon is in a word, “awesome.” The first time I used it, I was hooked. I had never skinned a deer as fast as I had when using that knife. And what really sold me is that the blades are replaceable and surgically sharp. The knife sells for around $40 and comes with 12 additional blades, plus you can buy a 12-pack of replacement blades for about $6. I don’t know about you, but for $.50 a blade it’s not worth the hassle of trying to get a traditional knife anywhere near as sharp as this knife. In addition, the knife is extremely lightweight and the handle is hunter orange. This makes it easy to spot the knife among debris when resting on the ground. The Piranta knife makes a great gift idea to share with your wife or mother-in-law who never knows what to buy you for the holidays.
Field Dressing Saw
I use a small field dressing saw from Gerber to cut through the sternum and the pelvis. It is compact, light and inexpensive. It also has a blunt tip so it will not puncture the bowel when being used. I’ve had the same saw for several years and it still cuts very well. When and if it gets too dull, I’ll just get another one. Again, this goes back to my theory that trying to sharpen it is not worth my time.
Heavy-Duty Plastic Sled
While this obviously doesn’t fit in my backpack, I feel it worthy of mentioning as this is my secret weapon that I keep in my truck. This tool pulls multiple duties. This “sled” was actually bought at my hardware store and was marketed for mixing small batches of concrete. I think I paid $12 for it. I drilled a couple holes on the rim and installed a ten-foot length of rope. When I’m done field dressing, I roll the deer into it and drag it out by the rope. The plastic surface significantly reduces the drag when pulling, and when there is snow on the ground I can literally pull the sled with one finger. Once I get to my truck, the “sled” is long enough that I can prop one end onto the back of the tailgate and then lift the other end of the sled and “walk” the sled into the back of the truck. An added benefit is that the mess stays in the sled rather than all over my truck bed. When I get home I unload the sled onto the garage floor and drag it over to my hoist. I hook up the deer to the hoist and lift him in the air out of the sled. I leave the sled underneath the deer so it will catch anything that falls and contain the mess. This keeps your garage clean and makes for easy clean-up. To sanitize, I take the sled to the carwash and spray it clean. Very easy cleanup and saves me a bunch of time.
This may sound like a lot of items and quite honestly it is. But what you will notice about all the products listed above is that they are small and serve a purpose. When you organize your pack do just that…organize it. Pack only what you need, place it in the same pouch or area every time and keep items on the small and light side and there will never be a moment that you don’t have what you need while out in the field. Being “fortunate” has more to do with being prepared than being lucky. Give these tips a try this fall. You may find yourself “fortunate” as well.