No matter what activities we’re interested in, there are a multitude of companies out there eager to overwhelm us with expensive equipment they claim is essential to our enjoyment or success. This is especially true in the world of hunting. For hunters with the financial means, this isn’t much of a problem—they are happy to add more equipment to their stockpile without a second thought to the cost. For many of us, though, buying every little thing we need to hunt just isn’t feasible. So if you’re hunting on a budget, what hunting gear should you really spend your money on, and where is it OK to go cheap?
Now I’m not saying that accessorizing isn’t fun, but when it really comes down to hunting, we don’t need much. The earliest hunters in human history did it half-naked, using nothing more than rocks and sharpened sticks. I’ve made a successful hunting career as a long-time hunter and guide in a number of different regions, hunting a multitude of different species, all with the bare minimum of equipment. I’ve never been a fan of spending money, so early in my hunting life, I always looked for the cheapest equipment I could find. However, throughout the years I’ve experienced disastrous hunting trips and catastrophic equipment failures that ruined my hunt. Those misadventures taught me an important lesson: Hunting on a budget is one thing, but being a complete Scrooge about everything isn’t the best idea—some pieces of hunting equipment are worth splurging on.
Now when it comes to being a hunter, we all have a different fashion sense. We wear clothing for both comfort and performance. There’s a myriad of scent-wicking, waterproof, turn-you-invisible camouflage apparel out there. But honestly, you can get away with hunting most big game in a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt if you feel that’s all you need. That’s why, when it comes to clothing, the only item you really need to loosen up your purse strings for are hunting boots.
Whether you’re traversing the rocky terrain of the high mountains or sitting through a long, cold day on the stand, a good pair of hunting boots can make or break a hunt. When I first started hunting, I only had an old pair of hand-me-down boots I got from my cousin. I remember stepping through a stream in them once and they immediately filled up with water. My day ended up being much shorter than I planned, with most of it spent sitting on a stump with freezing feet. After that I got an inexpensive pair of waterproof boots, which fell apart after a season. It was only then I realized that dropping a couple hundred bucks for hunting footwear that’s able to withstand punishment is definitely worth it.
The next piece of equipment that is really worth spending a night or two on the couch when your spouse sees the receipt: binoculars. Now, for Western hunters who rely so heavily on spot-and-stalk hunting, this may seem like a no brainer, but a good pair of binoculars can be an essential piece of hunting gear for hunters from any region. Good optics have so many more uses than just looking for game at a distance. They help with seeing distant trails on the mountainside, spotting other hunters in the area, finding that rare woodpecker in your birdwatching book, and enable you to tell if that distant buck is just an overstepping six pointer or the trophy of a lifetime.
Some of you may believe that optics are unnecessary when you have a rifle scope, but the effort put into raising your rifle constantly, combined with the obvious safety hazards of using a rifle scope to scan an area, make binoculars a much better option. When searching for a good pair of binoculars, don’t go cheap. If you do, you might as well go without them entirely. You need at least a 10×25 pair (x10 magnification, 25 millimeter objective lens diameter) with clear imaging, and they must stand up to weather and the general abuse of the hunt.
Last but certainly not least on the big spender list is your ammunition. No matter the quality of your weapon, be it rifle or bow, the better the quality of your bullets and arrows, the more deadly you can be. In rifle hunting, even if you have a less expensive gun or a hand-me-down from your grandfather, buying high-quality ammunition simply improves its performance. Ammunition with thicker jackets, better quality propellants, and higher RDF (reduced drag factor) improves accuracy, reliability, and all-around performance on the range and in the field. When it comes to arrows, the more expensive ones are made with better quality graphite and more consistency. This eliminates flaws, making the hunter feel as if they’re shooting the same arrow every time and producing tighter groupings and shorter blood trails.
One of the things we all love about hunting is that it is a sport for everyone. No matter your upbringing, physical capabilities, or financial status, if you want to hunt you can hunt. You can get as much or as little equipment as you choose, of as low or high quality as you see fit. But when it comes to your boots, glass, and ammo, it’s better to spend a few extra dollars to ensure you are comfortable, happy, and above all, successful in the field.