A Beginner's Gear Guide

Here comes the city part of me again... One of the activities that I really like about hunting is the shopping time. Spending hours at a time perusing hunting stores both online and at their brick and mortar locations. When talking about being outdoors and being in nature you can never have too much stuff. Even if, while out in the field, you're like me and travel light, with only a small pack and your gun, the need for stuff is unquenchable. Depending on the conditions you need a full set of camo to mask you in any environment, two feet of snow on the ground means you can't be wearing that super dark Realtree AP, so I guess Optifade opencountry would do just fine.And how about when you are birding. Geese in the morning and partridge and phaesant in the early afternoon, you need decoys and ghillie suits for the geese and a blaze vest with a game pocket for the upland birdies. As is evidenced by the vast footprint of a shop like Bass Pro or Cabela's the possibilities are endless.

As a new hunter last year I found it very difficult to find a non retail biased list of shit you need to hunt. So I took some time to look at a few different blogs and lists and dove in head first. What I found is that after buying a few things that are cool and fun, I found them to be unnecessary additions to my big camo pack. I have a few friends that are going to be getting into hunting over this year or the next as they can afford it, so I thought I would compile a list of gear for them and all the other new hunters that don't want to spend the 15k it would take to get everything on a retailers gear guide.

I live in Calgary, AB, and as such I have the privilege of living very close to some of the greatest hunting land ever, with a huge diversity of game including many species of ducks and upland bird, more geese than I ever thought existed, big game from mule and whitetail deer, to elk and moose, goat, sheep and even predators like cougar, bear and wolves. It is an incredible place to be. First and foremost any list must be delivered in context, and taken with the local conditions in mind. I would say most beginner hunters in Alberta are going to do what I did and try to put upland and water birds and deer on the table, and for this purpose the list is made.

Guns. This need is obvious, you will have to arm yourself with a shotgun for the birds and a rifle for the deer. Seems simple enough right? Well sort of. I found out this year that it is for good reason bird hunters prefer 2 barrels for upland and 1 for waterfowl. When hunting upland bird the 3rd shot is useless and a pump is too slow for a great second shot so 2 barrels is preferable. The sight plane and target acquisition is very different if the barrels are mounted vertically (over-under) or horizontally (side-by-side) and it takes time and rounds to figure out which you like better. Waterfowl require the approach of how much steel can I get into the air as quickly as possible, this requires a 3rd round in the magazine so either a pump or a semi-auto/autoloader. If you are only going to buy one gun, think about what is is you want to eat more of and go with the gun for that purpose, and in Canada expect to pay in and around the $1000 for something that is good and will stay with you a long time. Next up is your deer gun, there is a lot of info about flat shooting vs high arc rounds and slow bullet bush guns vs fast knock downs for open country and even more info about stopping power! Well the truth is you can kill a deer, moose or cape buffalo with just about anything as Jim Carmichael writes. So get something comfortable, find the rifle you want, then get the caliber it's available in. My best advice here is minimize recoil while keeping a light weight enough gun to carry through a bush and have a barrel short enough to not get caught on trees. And $1000 will get you a great gun a few to look at would be the CZ 550 (like I have and love), the Browning xbolt, or the Tikka T3Hunter, all great guns available in a wide range of calibers. 

Ammo. Spend some time and money on figuring out what ammo works best with your guns. it varies per gun and there is no answer as to which you should use. Just because I have had great luck with Federal doesn't mean Hornady won't be better for you. And expensive doesn't mean it will play nice with your gun. For waterfowl you do need steel or tungsten, but other than that there is no restrictions.

Optics. Don't cheap out, but you don't need to spend a lot on fancy high powered, variable zoom scopes either. Something simple with a lower magnification is all you need. 2-8x for something variable is perfect, or, for single magnication a 3x or 4x is great too. The reality is, as a new hunter you won't be good enough to take a shot more than about 150yds and even that is a very long shot. Your best optics should be your binoculars, target identification is much easier through binos than your scope and also a hell of a lot safer. What happens if your firearm accidentally discharges and the movement you were investigating was another hunter? "Sorry Mr. Officer I couldn't make out what was moving in the bush."

Camo & Clothing. Know your environment and where you are hunting. Deer season is mainly in November, in Alberta this means there may or may not be snow, plan to be unseen in both conditions and dress accordingly. Dressing accordingly for cold means layering up, having great boots and making sure most of what your wearing is as much natural fibre as possible. Geese and ducks also require that you are invisible. Laying in a field with camo for your top upper body layer and under camo canvas with the environment thrown on top is the most effective, inexpensive way to achieve the results here. Ghillie suits are fun but not needed. Then just lay perfectly still because the lead goose will spot you miles before they get there if they detect movement. For upland bird get yourself a a vest to put over top of whatever else you need to wear that can house shells for easy access and hold your feathered meat in a back pouch.

Bags. Get yourself 2 bags. One big one to store everything neatly so the wife doesn't freak out at your shit being everywhere. And one small one that will house enough ammo for a day hunt, extra socks and gloves if it's cold, your reg book, a snack, a beverage, knives, a small first aid kit, tags and a rope to drag an animal out with. Bags are not cheap to get what you want, just make sure they are comfortable and not bigger than you need, it's just extra weight to carry around while you hunt.

Knives. Have a couple with you. Since they attach nicely to belts and the outside of your pack it's easy to carry at least a couple. They need to be sharp and ready to go always. Make sure they are made of very high quality steel that holds an edge well. If you are uncomfortable with cutting a belly open with a standard blade for fear of organs, have a gut hook on one of the blades, it's a very helpful tool. Cheaping out on knives means you lose blade retention and that is dangerous.

Hopefully this helps with the basics! Happy hunting.