Stuff You Don’t Need to Buy for Deer Hunting, Stuff Worth the Money
Hunting is a seemingly simple pursuit. You have your bow or gun, arrows or ammo, warm enough clothing, and your license, and that's it. But with any passion shared by a significant number of people comes commerce. There is an entire industry devoted to lots of other stuff to buy that makes the pursuit better, has the effect of a placebo, or is just plain stupid.
I have purchased a few things that I thought were really important and would really help me getting after the game. Some things do help and I swear by them. I have also bought things that I feel stupid for buying.
Scent Free Body Wash
This one is my favorite. And the most stupid. And yes, I fell for it. It seems like a good idea. Hide all of your stinks without adding the perfumes of regular soaps and body wash. You can also get scent blocking deodorant. But unless you are somehow not breathing you are still going to stink to critters. Having seen the spooked reactions hundreds of times when deer hit my scent downwind of me, even when using all the anti-stink stuff, I don't think any of it helps enough to make it worth the effort, especially if your blowhole is still going to be sending breath stench into the world. Maybe gargle with doe urine?
Merino wool underwear
I have merino wool undergarments for layers and they are great. They are very warm for how light and packable they are. But what about merino wool for a pair of regular old underwear? I bought into the celebrity hunter hype about this particular product, but at least it was on clearance at half price when I bought two pairs of First Lite boxer briefs. Steven Rinella, who I enjoy reading, watching, and listening to, said in his podcast ads that it is supposed to be better than a synthetic material because it doesn't stink. Well stinking doesn't help you bag an elk or a deer. I'll try that. My synthetic workout clothes stink rather quickly. Well, after two days in the Black Hills looking for elk, I changed underwear and did a smell check. I nearly puked. So much for not stinking. I will say it is among the most comfortable underwear I own, but not worth $50 per pair to me. Merino socks and boot liners are totally worth the $10-15.
Camouflage for deer hunting
Camo for hunting animals that can see well is useful. But deer don't see well at all. Deer are color blind and only see blues well. I have sat five yards from a doe and two fawns that were upwind of me while I wore a black and red coat and black snow pants on a super cold but not snowy day. Each of them walked to a spot that was downwind of me. When they got there each of them stopped and looked right at me as if their nose had GPS. Then they looked through me, not seeming to see me as I sat statue-still, and eventually bounded away. One after the next did the same exact thing. Researchers have also found that deer vision is probably somewhere around 20/60 to 20/100. They would be too blind to drive a car. Having said all that, I hunt in camouflage but not because I think it does a great job of hiding me, but because I like the weight, warmth, and durability of it. What they do see well is movement. While trying to bag a buck a few years ago, I tried to slowly sneak my firing hand up to my rifle as it was resting against my shoulder while seated with the gun on a tall bipod. That buck's head snapped to that movement and I froze. He snorted and ran away.
Camo isn't bad. But spending $300 on a pair of pants for hunting is pure lunacy. $150 is far more reasonable. Mine cost $80. If it's cold I wear long underwear. I've also worn synthetic "tactical" pants, and they work well as long as they aren't made of cotton. Cotton is the devil. Never buy cotton cause it takes forever to dry.
I know I'll get emails or comments from die-hard camo wearing bow hunters telling me how stupid I am and that it helps you blend in. But if you're so well blended in why do you have to stay so still? Every deer I have taken has been with a loud bright orange vest on, which if I stay still they still don't see me.
Expensive Rifles and Scopes
Don't get me wrong, I like nice guns. Shooting a well designed and built firearm is like driving a really nice car. Everything is just better. The rifle pictured was my favorite. But that Springfield M1A was heavy and expensive and not a great hunting choice, and I could have a decent hunting rifle and a competition pistol for what that thing cost.
There also comes a point where more money just means more money and your return on investment plummets. When it comes to rifles people can go a little crazy. My current go-to for deer and antelope is a Savage 116 in .30-06. I bought it used for $450 two years ago and put a new $230 Nikon Prostaff 2.5-10x scope on it. I got my antelope at 312 yards with a perfect shot in the vitals. The year before I got a doe at 225 yards. But almost every other deer I have shot was well inside 100 yards. That's the case for a lot of hunters if they put themselves in the right position. Nowadays you can get a lot of guns for the money even buying the budget rifles in the $300-400 range. All you really need a hunting rifle to do is be able to hit a milk jug at 300 yards reliably. If you are going into a rough country you might want it to be lighter. That's something worth spending the cash on. But spending $1,000 on a rifle doesn't mean it is twice as good as a $500 rifle.
Riflescopes are a thing you definitely get more of a return on investment when it comes to cost, but only to a certain point. The difference between a $200 scope and a $400 scope can be huge. And a $600-800 scope can be exponentially better. Even over $1,000 you are still really getting a good increase on quality. That is also the point where I start to question is the increase in quality being worth the money. It can be, but the likelihood that it would actually matter goes down. Glass clarity is important, but holding zero is more important to me. That's my biggest gripe with my Nikon. I have to be careful with it because I lightly bumped it while hunting elk two years ago and it lost zero by 3 inches at 200 yards.
Things worth spending extra money on
Binoculars - I have a pair of $200 Vortex Diamondback 8x binos that I won at a 3-gun match a few years ago. I'm so thankful I grabbed those off the prize table because I have spotted so many animals with them that the cheap $50 sets I had used before never would have made visible. Spending even more than that is not stupid if you can afford it. Spending much more than $1,000 seems silly unless they have the range finder built-in.
Rangefinder - I love to have it so I can make an accurate shot at a distance and can use the dope I developed for my rifle appropriately. My Sig 1000 will range trees to 1,100+ yards. But I have also gotten good at ranging targets without one. I knew I was at about 300 yards for an antelope earlier this month but went to the rangefinder to verify. It said 287. I was only 13 yards off. And not a difference that would have caused a miss. But I missed anyway because by the time I got back on the rifle the goat was running off with the herd.
Backpack - If you're just sitting in a deer stand on the farm and you're never more than a few hundred yards from your vehicle, and the deer is going to be drug or hauled out by something on wheels, any little pack will do for snacks, water, and incidentals. But if you're going to be packing your animal out it is worth it to get a good pack. I have a relatively inexpensive Alpz Outdoors frame pack that is a great hauler for $130. My only gripe is that it is a little heavy when it is empty. Spending more isn't stupid either.
Boots - I've got bad feet. Specifically a bad big toe. I thought I had decent boots before, and they were, but they didn't provide the level of support I needed. I bought a pair of super stiff Kennetrek mountain boots a couple of years ago and I love them. I went from debilitating pain in 2017 to be able to put in five miles of hiking without any pain at all. It really made a difference.
Dye and Scent Free Laundry Detergent - This is something I'll buy and wash hunting clothes in. Not for the scent part, but the ultraviolet part. That's a spectrum of color deer see very well and if you've ever held up a black light on clothing that had regular laundry soap splashed on it, it shines. I'll wash my outer layers in it before every trip.