What’s in Your Backpack? Plan Well for Deer Season

Backpacks are versatile for gun and bowhunters, short hunts or long trips, and can definitely be a plus for carrying gear and cleaning supplies.

Backpacks are versatile for gun and bowhunters, short hunts or long trips, and can definitely be a plus for carrying gear and cleaning supplies.

In my office are many things: photos of my wife and children, a cool hog skull from a fantastic Texas hunt years ago with friends, the replica of my 53-inch muskie (yes, I’m humblebragging), my grandmother’s antique lamp, and an assortment of hunting gear that includes flashlights, action cameras and gear, a modern sporting rifle and bolt action rifle, a few revolvers, cookbooks with venison recipes and five backpacks of various shapes and sizes.

By Alan Clemons

George Carlin would’ve had a field day with my office in his “A Place for my Stuff” routine. He also might be wondering why I have so many backpacks. One’s enough isn’t it? Just one good backpack for your stuff? Why, no, of course not! You might need a larger backpack for a multi-day trip or a smaller one for just a few items. It’s always good to have a couple of reliable, durable and versatile packs.

I’ve accumulated different backpacks over the years. Some are great and get regular use. Some are versatile enough for me to include my laptop and camera gear when I’m flying, along with a few essentials in case of lost luggage. A couple are smaller for minimal gear on shorter hunts. I also have several Pelican and Manfrotto camera bags and boxes for my big camera, action cameras and laptop.

Being organized with a good backpack is a great benefit for deer hunting. Check out some of the packs and must-have gear these veteran hunters use.

The Tenzing TZ 2220 has plenty of room for a lot of gear.

The Tenzing TZ 2220 has plenty of room for a lot of gear.

Dan Schmidt, Wisconsin
Editor-in-Chief, Deer & Deer Hunting
For bowhunting at home, I’ve been using a fanny pack for several years. It’s perfect for bowhunting and features one larger compartment for binoculars, my Thermacell and any other larger items, and lots of smaller compartments for essential gear. When traveling out of state, I go with a larger pack for all-day hunting.

For me, the perfect pack is mid-size with just the right amount of pockets for essential gear. Zippered closures with pull tabs and extra inside compartments with fasteners to keep important items like truck keys, etc., are important, too. I’ve tried hydration packs but have found that a couple of exterior water bottle pouches are much more convenient. Then again, I’m a deer hunter; all-day elk adventures would be a different story I guess.

On my fanny packs, I like that I can extend the waistband and attach the pack to the trunk of the tree at shoulder height. This allows me to reach gear easily without making too much movement or noise.

Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo, Illinois
Hosts of Archer’s Choice Media
We use a variety of Tenzing packs from a small- to medium-size pack. We always have a small first aid kit we custom make and use the Food Saver sealer to make it small and compact.

We will have a small LED flashlight and headlamp, toilet paper (has saved many a day), HS earth scent wipes, binoculars with lens cloth, gutting gloves and knife with replaceable blades, extra screw-in bow hooks, rope, short and long EZ bow hangers, folding saw, extra release, reflective survey biodegradable tape, fully charged InReach fully, camo makeup tubes, reading glasses (getting older and need these!), a grunt tube and rattling antlers (sometimes a rattling bag, although we prefer real antlers). We’ll also have a small bottle of Scent A Way earth spray, our Ozonics unit, lightweight packable rain gear and an extra jacket or pullover.

We have used the Tenzing packs since they came out and actually were part of the designing team. We wanted packs that truly were designed by hunters that work. Our packs stay on our backs while climbing up, and we have screw-in bow hooks to hang our pack on the tree. We always make sure they are not in the way but are easily accessible to get our gear out. We always have a few rubber wire ties on our packs and use them on ladder stands to attach.

Our ideal Tenzing pack is a small- to medium-size pack of about 1,500-2,200 cubic inches, with a fair amount of functional pockets, really thought out well and with extra straps to attach clothing. I would rather have a few pockets to put gear so we can keep it more organized rather than one big one. Also side pockets to hold water bottle, and other gear, and made from quality material that is quiet, not affected by cold or bad weather, and with strong zippers and straps. A small, sealed pouch for tags and licenses is a great feature, too.

For youth or women hunters with smaller frames, today's backpacks are designed in trim sizes to avoid uncomfortable, bulky trips. Adjustable straps also help you fit the pack to your body.

For youth or women hunters with smaller frames, today’s backpacks are designed in trim sizes to avoid uncomfortable, bulky trips. Adjustable straps also help you fit the pack to your body.

Gordy Krahn, Minnesota
Editor, Deer & Deer Hunting
I probably have a half-dozen packs of various shapes and sizes, each designed for various types of hunting situations. I typically use the same pack 90 percent of the time, out of familiarity. I know each pocket, each nook and cranny, intimately, and can always find my gear quickly and quietly, even in the dark.

Most of my hunting is geared toward half- or full-day ventures, so I gravitate toward a small- to medium-sized pack whether I’m run-and-gun rifle hunting or bowhunting from a treestand. One reason is no matter how large my pack is, I manage to find a way fill it with gear, most of which I never use. That’s one reason I go with a smaller pack and try to pack smartly.

My everyday pack is a medium-sized backpack. I really like its pocket configuration and I’ve used this particular pack so much I know exactly where to find every piece of gear.

I think the things I have in my pack are similar to what most hunters carry. More important is that I know where each item is. I don’t want to have to search 12 pockets to come up with my spare bow release should I need it. I carry rattling antlers on the exterior of the pack and calls in a pouch on the side. I carry the things that I won’t need in a hurry, such as field dressing tools, fire-starter, tools, first aid kit and such in the inner, more inaccessible pockets of the pack. Those items I might need in a hurry – grunt call, pruning shears, flashlight, toilet paper – I keep in the outer pocket where I can get to them quickly. 

I don’t like climbing into a treestand with my pack on, so I typically attach it to a pull-up rope and retrieve it once I’m settled in. I use the pack as an organizer when I’m in my stand so I need it handy. I use a screw-in hook and position the pack off to the side at about waist level. This way I can access anything in my pack without creating a lot of movement. If I’m bowhunting I don’t like a lot of things hanging from my neck that might interfere with my draw. I open the main compartment of the pack and put the things I need quick access to, such as my bino or a grunt call, in open view so I can easily access them. 

Good pocket configuration is paramount to a good pack. But it’s not necessarily how many pockets you have but if they make sense for the type of hunting you do. I like a large, pocket-less main compartment to store clothes and other large gear items. I typically dress in layers when hunting and I need a place to put discarded clothes as the day warms up or a place to keep my rain gear. I also want some webbing on the exterior of the pack where I can attach extra clothing, especially clothing that’s gotten wet.

As far as size, I always go with the smallest pack that will get the job done. That might mean a very small daypack for a treestand hunt, or a very large frame pack if I’m hunting the outback for several days and might have to pack out meat.

Michael Hunsucker, Missouri
Host of Heartland Bowhunter

The Alps Traverse includes a bow/gun carrying component and can be used as a shooting rest in the field, too.

The Alps Traverse includes a bow/gun carrying component and can be used as a shooting rest in the field, too.

We use a variety of packs depending on the hunt and what gear we need to bring, but Tenzing is our brand of choice. They make great quality packs for any hunting situation. One of my favorite packs is the TZ1250, a fanny style pack but big enough for almost anything you want to put in it. One thing I love about Tenzing packs is there are so many compartments and zippers, and literally a spot for everything. This helps me keep organized so I know exactly where to find what I am looking for when the time comes.

Whitetail hunting must-haves for me include 10×42 Bushnell Legend binoculars, the Bushnell Cearshot rangefinder, a wind checker, bow hanger, tree accessory holders, Primos Rut Roar grunt call, rattling antlers, iPhone to pass the time on long sits in November, protein bars for snacks, an extra bow release, gutting knife and gloves, any tags (or other paperwork) in a resealable plastic bag so I know where they are, a good retractable pull-up rope, Wicked hand saw and extendible pole saw if I’m hunting a stand that hasn’t been trimmed out or has been hit by a storm, and definitely a good flashlight or headlamp like those in the Bushnell Rubicon series.

I literally have used a pack since I first started bowhunting. I always like to be prepared and there are so many tools and accessories we use to help put the odds in our favor. Carrying a good pack makes it easy to have everything you need in one spot.

Pack Smart Snacks
And Enough of Them
Hunsucker said when it comes to stand snacks he’s fond of protein bars, but if you’ve ever tried to open a noisy wrapper on the stand it can make your hair curl.

Hunsucker said he puts all his snacks into resealable plastic bags. That’s a great idea, whether it’s a protein bar, deer jerky, granola or something else. I like to keep these in an outside pocket to make it as easy as possible to get to, if it’s not in my jacket pocket.

I like protein bars for a boost. But doggone, they can be hard as a rock in cold weather and some are downright nasty, like eating compressed sawdust. My favorite is the Clif Builder’s Bar for a quick breakfast with coffee on the drive or for a mid-hunt snack. There’s always at least one bottle of water in my pack, too, if not two.

If I’m planning an all-day or long-day, like noon to dark, hunt then I will pack enough food for the hours. Last November in Saskatchewan with Mossberg, I made two baloney and cheese sandwiches, had two bottles of Gatorade and added a big bag of homemade nut-chocolate granola. By 2 o’clock I was chewing through a crunchy second sandwich and a near-frozen bottle of liquid under my armpit trying to thaw it. Fortunately, I shot a great buck and didn’t have to worry about being hungry at dark-thirty.

Plan ahead. I know we go hunt to look for deer and try to kill one, but if you’re going to be out all day or for a long time, take enough food. Your body and brain need it to work at optimal levels. Don’t take a lot of sugary junk, either, and get the jitters or a sugar crash. Bank on jerky, a turkey, ham or PBJ sandwich, maybe some soup in a Thermos if you’re in a blind, and don’t forget the water.


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