Like hunting during any time of year, the early season comes with its own set of challenges.
One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to early-season hunting is staying cool while also staying protected. It can be tough to find rugged gear that keeps you in the game without making you sweat to death.
So, in light of the coming early season and the pile on my backseat in the rearview mirror, I’m going to run through some key items I’ve found to help along the way. These are in no particular order, but I’ve found value in each of them.
Must-Have Gear for Early-Season Hunting
Finding a good early-season hunting sock has honestly felt like pulling teeth, in my experience. The reason is that most “early-season” socks are just too dang thick. I’ve been left fairly disappointed time and time again until recently.
The Darn Tough Lightweight Hunting Sock hits the nail dead center on the head with force, from the spot-on no-bunching fit to the overall comfort. And more importantly, this sock is thinner for the heat that comes with early-season hunting. I don’t say things like this often, but this is the perfect early-season hunting sock.
We can’t talk about an early-season sock without talking about an early-season boot. After all, the health and well-being of our feet for western hunting is damn near paramount. The hiking, uneven terrain, and heavy backpacks demand something with support, not to mention something that isn’t too warm for the occasion.
One of my go-to boots for these times has been the Crispi Colorado GTX II. This is a noninsulated boot that offers a great mix of comfort and support. The boot is pliable enough to provide mobility but stiff enough to give support when needed. Also, in the 4+ years I’ve had between the original Colorado and the Colorado II, I’ve never had one leak.
Staying as comfortable as possible in the field is a great way to stay in the field longer. And a quality layering system is key for that. One of the core pieces of a layering system is your base layer. It’s crucial for moisture mitigation and staying cool or warm.
My favorite so far in that category is the Wick Hoodie from First Lite. It’s a next-to-skin piece that is mega comfortable and ultra-breathable for early-season hunting. I also really enjoy the hood to help keep the blistering sun off of my neck and ears while glassing. A bomber base layer from front to back.
The early season generally means hot weather, which means sweating, which means drinking lots of water. On backpack hunts especially, having an adequate stash of water is a huge help. The most efficient way I’ve found to do so, short of camping right next to a lake, is carrying these MSR Dromlite water bags.
They come in a few different sizes, but I prefer the 6L. The bags have been super durable for me, and they are a welcome sight back at camp after a long day on the hill. They’re also lightweight and pack down wicked small.
Meat care is one of those things I’m always concerned about, but it’s especially true in the early season. Once an animal is down, a clock begins to tick, and it’s your job to get that meat cooled ASAP. These High Country Game Bags from Argali take the torch for me there, and they do it at a minimal 9-ounce weight penalty for backcountry hunting.
Each bag comes with a 225-pound paracord drawstring for hanging, and each bag will fit bone in mule deer-size game or boned-out elk/caribou. That paracord is also reflective, along with a reflective Argali logo, so they pop in a headlamp for night hikes.
I’ve also stuffed clothing in these to use as a pillow, and you could use the paracord to repair a drop-away rest cord for your bow or replace a broken shoelace. These are a no-brainer must-have all the way around.
It’s really easy to drink the Kool-Aid on what’s cool in the gear department. At the end of the day, though, what matters is simply what works in real-life hunting situations. Everything I’ve lined out above are things I have put through the paces and not just regurgitated specs at you from a website.
Results speak much higher than numbers and technology ever will. So, go forth and have the best early-season hunting season possible. Hopefully, it’s heavy packs all around for you. If not, it’ll at least be a damn good time.