The renewed popularity of hunting means this season, a lot of folks are going to be headed into the woods pretty green. For the beginning hunter, the learning curve out there can be a little intimidating. There is literally no end to the know-how that can benefit you during hunting season; even hunters who started decades ago are learning something new every single season. Just as you never cross the same stream twice, the nature of the hunting world means there’s always something new to contend with. But never fear; it doesn’t take too much to get a safe start hunting game.
First thing to remember is to take it slow and think long-term. Don’t dive in and try to do everything all at once, burning yourself out in your first season. It should be fun, not a frantic chore. So if you’re headed into the woods this fall, now is the time to start getting all your ducks in a row so you’re confident on opening day. Make sure you're up to spec on all your licensing. Take a hunters education course. Even if you prefer firearms to a bow, I’d recommend taking a bow-hunting course as well. Bow-hunting encourages the development of skills like stealth, shot placement, tracking, and general woodsmanship that can benefit anyone. Develop these skills and focus on muscle memory and laying a good foundation of knowledge. It’s much better to slowly develop good habits like safe weapon practices and smooth hand-eye coordination, as bad habits can be frustrating to have to un-learn later.
If you can, get in with a group of seasoned hunters. Learning any new skill or hobby involves trial and error, but working with family and friends who know the ropes can help maximize trial and minimize error. That said, when you hunt with more seasoned outdoorsmen, you’ll find they looooove to give you lots and lots of advice. This is particularly true where it comes to gear.
Look, I’m not going to yuck anyone’s yum when it comes to trying out new gear. The hunting world is full of useful tools and gadgets, from the guns and compound bows themselves to packs, stands, scent elimination, etc. But I shot my first white-tail wearing a camo t-shirt and hand-me-down camo pants, with a cheap bow that didn’t last to the next season. You really don’t need Navy SEAL scopes and space-age drone decoys for this stuff.
I would urge the new hunter to focus on the basics - gear that keeps you safe, warm, and dry. A good hunting backpack to keep your hands free. Maybe some simple decoys if you’re hunting fowl and a good call if you’re deer or elk hunting. As you gain experience, build on that experience and answer your own needs as they come up.
Best Hunting Boots With Camo Pattern
Safe, warm, and dry starts with your feet. Hunting boots are camouflaged, yes, but they’re also going to be lightweight and durable to get cross-country, comfortable for long nights tracking down a kill, and warm enough to sit in for hours before the opportunity presents itself.
My relationship with Danner boots is long and loving. I’m a fan. That includes Danner hunting boots. They make some of the best all-around hunting boots on the market. The Danner Vital 8" Waterproof Hunting Boot and Pronghorn 8" Waterproof 1200g Insulated Hunting Boot are particularly versatile examples. The Vital is one of the most comfortable out-of-the-box hunting boots I’ve ever worn; almost no break-in required. It feels light and cool, breathing nicely even on particularly warm days at the beginning of the season. Some people like the freedom of movement of lower-top boots, but the extra support provided by the 8-inch models really helps on uneven terrain and rocky ravines, as do the tough Vital and Pronghorn outsoles, with deep lugs for good traction on loose rock and dirt hillsides. Inside they’ve got waterproof liners, but water rarely even gets that far, beading right off their exteriors. The Vital has a nylon shank which flexes nicely and provides great range of motion for a tall boot when you’re side-hilling it. The Pronghorn, on the other hand, has a bi-fit board shank, where the lasting board, midsole, and shank are combined into one piece; this helps accommodate the Pronghorn’s increased mass and keep most of the flex that the Vital has.
For particularly rough terrain and backcountry hunting trips, honorable mention goes to Thorogood’s Infinity FD 7” Waterproof Outdoor Boots. A little lower-top than the Danner models, this heavy-duty all-purpose boot has a tougher welt and deep, mud-shedding lugs for a range of forested, mountainous, and watery terrains.
The only drawback of the hunting boots above is that, like most all-around boots, they’re limited in deep or prolonged periods in the water. Stand in water long enough, and it will find a way in, high up by the laces or over the collar. So if your focus is waterfowl and wading through streams or at the edges of lakes is going to be common for you, you might be better off grabbing a pair of Thorogood’s Infinity FD 17" 800g Insulated Waterproof Rubber Boots.
“Now hold on,” I heard you saying, “rubber boots are great for water, sure, but if you think I’m wearing rubber boots on a cold autumn morning on the lake when I can see my breath, you’re kidding yourself.” You’re right, rubber boots can sometimes have temperature-bleeding problems. But what I love about these Thorogood boots is exactly how they deal with the cold. These babies have a thin (I’m talking 2mm) insulating layer of nearly-weightless NASA-developed aerogel SOLARCORE lining. Insulation is all about trapping air, which is why goose down is such a go-to for our puffer jackets. Aerogel is 99.8% air, tough and flexible, and Thorogood utilizes it beautifully in the Infinity FD boots. Imagine a sock of antimicrobial wicking liner to keep your feet breathing properly. That gets wrapped completely in this aerogel, enveloping your foot and leg up to 17 inches. Then around that goes the thick, tough waterproof (and scent-free) rubber that makes up the body of the boot. It really is terrific. The rubber exterior is made with a composite shank to hold its shape even after you punish it, and its adjustable gussets keep it fitting your foot just right. Down below, Infinity FD boots have multi-traction outsoles with self-cleaning lugs to grip in the mud and then shed it with every step once you're out.
For really cold climes and icy conditions, LaCrosse’s AeroHead 16” Waterproof Hunting Boot and Muck Boot’s Woody Arctic Ice Boot are made to keep you on your feet. Their outsoles are optimized for keeping your feet dry and gripping while moving over ice, and both of them can double handily for ice fishing when hunting season’s through.
Hunting Jackets and Camo Pants
Depending on where you’re hunting, staying warm can be a matter of being comfortable and having a good time or shivering miserably - or worse. For most mid-season hunting trips, the warm and lightweight, extremely packable SITKA Gear Kelvin Lite Hoody makes a great camouflage hunting jacket. The Large only weighs 17oz, but it’s packed with highly-compressible 900-fill Primaloft Gold insulation, for an amazing warmth-to-weight ratio. The Kelvin Lite has zippered hand pockets and chest pocket for stowing; it’s extremely windproof; and the whole thing packs down and nestles into its own hand pocket. For colder conditions, though, SITKA Gear’s Boreal Jacket is where it’s at. With a waterproof and breathable GORE-TEX shell and PrimaLoft down blend insulation, it’s our warmest waterfowl jacket, built tough against the blustery cold and wet of northern lakes. Absolutely key are the Boreal’s water-sealing cuffs, with watertight gaskets that prevent water from going up your sleeve even when you submerge your hand completely reaching for a kill in the water.
SITKA Gear are also the people making the best general-purpose pants for hunting season. Their newly-redesigned flagship Equinox Hunting Pants are durable and light, made with four-way stretchable camo polyester. It’s water-resistant, with an extra waterproof seat - a godsend for dewy early-morning stints on a wet stand. These camo cargo pants have all the pockets and zipper security pockets you’d expect, including a dedicated knife sheath. Wide but not baggy, it’s optimized for wide ease of movement and layering.
As for trekking through the field, duck hole or blind. Owning a pair of quality waders will provide a tremendous advantage in keeping your body insulated and your feet dry. These features are delivered in the one-of-a-kind Gator Waders Shield Insulated Waders, which composes a 100% waterproof membrane, 1600g insulated boot with reinforced exterior rubber and quilted thermal cotton insulation to shield you from the elements but still breathe. Another option to prepare for your next hunt is the Gator Waders Omega Uninsulated Waders that is also 100% waterproof with a 800g insulated boot as well as their Gator-Flex breathable fabric – their strongest and most durable outer shell yet. Both waders provide quality and reliability even in the most extreme environments so that you can ultimately focus on the hunt and creating lasting memories.
Hunting Clothes Start At the Skin
On that note, I’ve been focusing on outerwear here, but let me tell you: Smartwool is your friend. Smartwool socks, Smartwool undershirts, Smartwool long-johns. Under every piece of clothing I’ve outlined here today, get that body covered with some Smartwool. I could write at length about the irreplaceable value of a Smartwool base layer, but that’ll have to wait for another day.
Until then, welcome to the 2021 hunting season. New folks, best of luck out there. You’ll find the lifestyle so much more rewarding than just the sweet sweet venison summer sausage you’ll bring home. The skills and mindset you’ll develop in your quest for duck fajitas will benefit you in other aspects of your life, and the satisfaction of bringing home kills will help you see how interconnected life is, in a way that’s often tough to see in our modern society of global supply-chain supermarkets and Amazon Prime delivery.