One day, as I was preparing to head to a remote community (we call remote villages “The Bush” up here), I got a call from my client. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in going a few days early to go hunting, as the village to which we were traveling had a private caribou herd which precluded having to go through Fish and Game rigmarole. OF COURSE I wanted to go hunting, I said. I’d always wanted to; I am good with guns and I love eating off the land. I just never knew what to do with an animal after it was shot; somehow that seemed an important thing to know – I’ll always hate Chris McCandless for shooting that moose (with a .22, oh my god, was it a death by hazing? No better than stoning the poor thing) and wasting all of the meat because he was an idiot. This was my chance to find out the right way, from an experienced hunter.
I had a great experience, and learned a ton. I ate all winter from that one hunting trip and didn’t have to buy meat for an entire year. I went hunting for my winter’s meat again this year; also a great experience. This year’s hunt was a little tougher; instead of a day hunt I was out for a week, camping the entire time, crashing around in the woods and around the mountains, looking for the animals. Naturally, I found myself thinking quite a bit about gear while I was out there.
Gear for hunting is just different. It has to be. Super light, super technical fabric takes the back seat to toughness and the innate ability to take a beating. Believe me, you won’t give a crap if it dries quickly if it can’t keep the devil’s club thorns out of your legs. If your jacket wears through from the pressure of your rifle strap, you’ll be a sorry unit. A waterproof breathable that is more breathable than waterproof really sucks. And fabrics that crinkle when you’re trying to stalk are just not cool. Don’t forget that half the day you’re going to be stuffed into a rubber bag (waders) so who cares what you’re wearing – you’re gonna be soaked in sweat.
This made me wonder if gear matters all that much. I mean, it matters – I just said it did – but I admit that I’m a lot less picky in the heat of the moment, facing a long, cold, expensive meat-buying winter if I don’t make my shot, than I am when I’m strolling up an after-work peak for exercise. Throwing the rifle up on top of fallen trees as tall as pickup trucks and clambering up after it just to slide down the other side and thrash through a thicket really isn’t an activity that most gear excels at. You end up wearing what is reasonably comfortable and that you don’t care too much about, since it’s not likely to survive many hunting trips.
Because of that last, I won’t go into my gear list for hunting. No one wants to be on a “gear I don’t care that much about” list. However, I was surprised to learn that I have a few hunting-related preferences that don’t apply elsewhere:
1. Low rise pants – not good for this activity. I’m not talking about mom pants; no way will I wear mom pants – but with all the bending and squatting and stuff, your above-crack area (lower back? but lower*) gets exposed a lot when you wear low-low pants, as I usually do. And it gets chewed on by bugs – a lot. Not a mistake I’ll be making again.
2. Breathability. Overrated like whoa in this environment. Waterproof is waterproof and who cares if you sweat? Either way you’re gonna get wet. Somehow it’s easier to take if it’s your sweat and not the rain soaking through your high-tech garment. See above discussion about spending most of your time in a rubber bag.
3. Nitrile gloves. Usually I reserve these for medical situations and for berry picking (hey, blueberries stain!) but now they have a permanent place in my pack. They protect from bugs and from bloody entrails. But mostly it’s for bug protection; a little blood won’t hurt you, though it sure is easier to clean up after if you can just take off your gloves and be done with it. A valuable piece of gear.
4. Knives. I have a collection of cheapo knives because the TSA keeps getting them. But a good knife is so important for hunting; there’s no substitute.
5. Hardware. REAL hardware, like pliers. I actually carry real pliers in my search and rescue pack, in case Geardog gets into a porcupine, but now I carry them at all times. Nothing can get a fishhook out better than pliers, and once you have them you’ll find all kinds of uses for them.
6. Tent features. I brought a traditional-type tent, with a vestibule and one door, as we all had our own tents for the trip (super important for sanity) so I didn’t care about issues resulting from having to share. However, my friend brought his MHW Skyledge 2.1, which I also have but didn’t bring, and I was jealous the entire time. He had TWO vestibules and TWO doors. He was twice as sane. Trust me.
7. Firecraft. I tried to be all woodswoman about building a fire, with my little flints and survival-y tricks, but my friend cut me off one night. He lit the stove and held it into the stack of wet wood, like a blowtorch. Soon those flames were a’rollin’. “Well, Jill,” he said, “I’m just a cheater.” But a warm and dry cheater. If you have a stove with you, there’s no point in lighting the fire any other way.
8. Camp stove. Speaking of a stove, the fancy Jetboil thing got unceremoniously dumped for being a useless pain in the ass. The blowtorch-style superlight stoves were constantly in use. Both of the fancy ones stayed stowed. Lesson: learned.
9. Food. What are you going to cook on that stove anyway? This is the bit of gear that DOES matter. Let’s get real, if you’re hunting you’re probably with a bunch of dudes. Dudes, for some reason, don’t eat on hunting trips. Well let me take that back. If they have to eat whatever food they bring, they don’t eat. If YOU bring food, they eat THAT. So make sure you bring food to keep yourself happy, and defend it well. If you can think of anything that dudes won’t eat, bring that.
10. Gloves and socks. You cannot possibly bring too many pairs.
Interestingly, this foray into a different type of gear made me a lot more relaxed about my other ventures. If the dudes can survive in the same grubby, sweaty Carhartts for a week in the woods, I think it’s OK to wear a cotton T-shirt on an afternoon dog walk.
*But lower. Get it?