It seems like only yesterday my father and I were making a trip to Cabela’s in Owatonna, Minnesota to check out hunting gear. I was twelve or thirteen and had been planning my first deer hunt for a while through hours of watching and learning everything I could from the hunting channels we had on our Dish Network package. I remember watching all of the ads from all the different brands sponsoring various shows, and at the time, this is what I concluded would happen at Cabela’s: I would be buying either Mossy Oak or Real Tree camo, a Mathews Switchback bow (clearly the leader in bow technology at the time), Gold Tip arrows with Muzzy broad heads, and I would be aiming them at my target through a Trophy Taker site complementing my Trophy Taker arrow rest. These were what I needed to be a successful hunter, until I started reading price tags. The ads had done their job at informing my young self who was the “best” in the business, but they never told me my paper route money would soon disappear.

I walked out of the store with two things on my list: a lightweight, very basic, Mossy Oak jacket with matching pants. These were far from the latest and greatest that Cabela’s had to offer, and they still totaled over one hundred dollars. It looked like my dreams of big racks and turkey fans were going to be put on hold for another season until I could save up enough money to buy “adequate” gear. I think my father could tell how bummed I was and he kept reminding me that expensive doesn’t always mean the best. “Be happy with what you have Aaron, it will take you a long way.” The lesson I learned that day was invaluable and one I carry close to my heart today. Buy only what I need, only if I can afford it.

A few weeks later my dad called me into his room. When I got there, he said, “I want you to have something”, as he pulled his shotgun case from behind the dresser. He opened it up and said, “I know how excited you are about hunting and I hardly use it anymore, heck, I can’t even remember the last time I went hunting,” I remembered very well the last time he hunted because I was riding shotgun in his pickup road hunting for pheasants, “so I want you to have it and use it.” I couldn’t believe it! I had just received my first a shotgun, a Mossberg 500. It meant a lot that my dad would give me his shotgun that he had bought when he was in sixth grade, but it meant even more because now I had camo and a gun, I was ready to hunt.

That happened as I was starting my eighth grade year and before I knew it, Iowa shotgun season was upon us. My dad decided that we would go with his friend on their annual deer drive so I could go hunting. The weather was mild that year, perfect for me to try my camo out under my blaze orange vest. On one drive my dad and I were posted on a fence line, and before we knew it, a group of does came running right at us. As the deer trotted closer, I told my dad to shoot the biggest one as I ducked low to allow him a clear shot. As he started sending shots their way, I was stunned how the deer didn’t see us until I had moved. I guess I didn’t need the full HD camo I had wanted. I was so proud of my dad that I forgot what brand I was wearing as I went to investigate the results of his shooting, only to find that he had given the deer an underbelly haircut. I will never forget that exact moment, the brands didn’t matter, just the moment in time with my dad and the hunt.

Spring came quickly and with my father’s Mossberg 500 and my camo, I was ready to head out after a long beard. A family friend, Pat, offered to take me on my first spring turkey hunt and I was more than willing to accept. After a few practice turkey loads, and a rough realization of their abusiveness, we set out early one morning during third season. I was set up in some grass on the edge of a field with Pat next to me as my sarcastic encouragement, and his buddy behind doing the calling. We were there for ten minutes when three gobblers started a yodeling competition behind us. After ten more minutes, two of them strutted out from directly behind us, neither having any idea I was there with a hand-me-down shotgun and cheap faded camo. As I raised the bead, I found out that the gun had a vibrate function I was unaware of. Pat kept prodding me with, “Shoot it Red! Are you going to shoot Red? Do you need me to pull the trigger for you Red?” The turkey folded as I fired my father’s gun. After my hands regained functionality and a few punches to the arm from Pat with, “Nice shooting Red”, I called my dad to tell him the news. He said, “I told you to be happy with what you have, it worked huh? Nice Job!”

The next year I started working for a hardware store in my home town of Earlham and saving money for a bow. Winterset, the town to the south, had a small archery shop that sold Hoyt, Martin, and PSE bows. The store owner, Big Ray, told me two things: One; “Never shoot a bow that is out of your price range. You won’t be happy with the one you can afford. Trust me son, you don’t need an expensive bow to kill anything in Iowa.” He showed me around the Hoyts and Martins, and I settled on a prototype that Martin had sent him called the Shadowcat. He gave me a deal on the bow, a case, six Gold Tip arrows, and a pack of Muzzy broad heads. This time armed with the wisdom of finding the best value, not the most advertised brand.

The bow was far from the most expensive, but I loved it. It was accurate, had 55-75lb draw options, compact, and it was mine. I practiced almost every day, building a relationship with my new equipment of trust, confidence, and reliability. That bow and I went on many hunts together and I am happy to say we successfully hunted four bucks, a doe, and a fall turkey. Of course the newer models always caught my eyes in the store, but there was nothing wrong with mine. I would still have that bow today, 9 years later, if someone hadn’t stolen it from my parents place while I was at basic training.

Just like we build a relationship with Gods great outdoors, we also build a relationship with our gear that hunts with us. We build confidence in our gear, we learn to be comfortable with it, to trust it, and as long as nothing major goes wrong, our gear is reliable. Each time we replace perfectly fine equipment with new, we lose that reliability, confidence, trust, and relationship we once had. We force ourselves into relearning what we once knew, and often lead ourselves into the trap of always needing the latest but not always the greatest. This trap I feel takes us away from the true enjoyment of the hunt. We get more caught up in what brand we sport over how thankful we are to bring home memories and food to our families.

We as hunters and outdoorsman, have the privilege of having products and gear that are built to last. I still have and wear that same jacket and pants that I wore on my first hunts. That old Mossberg is my favorite gun and with the addition of a slug barrel, it is now the only gun I use for every hunt from doves to deer. There is no need to replace our current gear with new, often more expensive, gear each year just because it is new. New often gives the illusion of “better” but that is simply a fallacy many of us succumb to. Whether it is new camo patterns that allow us to be “invisible” from a different perspective, or a new bow that is three feet per second faster than the last year’s model, we are often pressured into feeling that our gear is outdated or inadequate. The fact is however, every gun shoots, every camo blends in, every bow slings arrows so why spend money each year replacing our equipment that works just fine?

Don’t get me wrong, I urge everyone to buy whatever gear they want and can afford too. I also urge them to know that 9.99 times out of 10 it’s the hunter, not the gear who makes the hunt successful. I have bought new gear over the years that I thought was “better” than the gear that I had. It seems like more often than not I end up frustrated thinking, “Man, I should have just kept my old one.” Each year, when it’s time to hit the field, I reach into the same hunting bag, grab the same camo that I wore on my first hunt, grab the same shotgun or bow, and head out knowing that the gear I have will get me through another season. New gear can only guarantee a lighter wallet and less closet space. It can’t guarantee a filled tag. Be happy with what you have, it will take you a long way.

Oh yeah, the second thing that Big Ray told me the day I bought my first bow was, “Never get your lady into something you like (archery), unless you want her to be better at it than you.” But that is another story for another time!