Essential Bowhunting Gear: 2021 Checklist

| Last Updated May 2, 2021

Are you busy packing for a hunting trip and second-guessing what you should take with you?

There are so many different tools and supplies available to the modern hunter that it's easy to become overwhelmed.

Allow us to give you some information and hopefully help you make the right decisions regarding your next trip.

Essential Bowhunting Gear

First, we’ll provide a brief overview of the most commonly used items for bowhunting and what they’re used for.

Essential Gear

Best For

Bow and Bow Accessories (quiver, release, sights, and rest)

Your weapon of choice. Without this, you won’t be hunting anything

Arrows and Broadheads

Your ammunition; you’ll use arrows to make the kill. Broadheads are the most common hunting arrows

Treestand

This allows you to hunt comfortably from the safety of a tree

Knife

A versatile tool essential for any hunter

Essential Clothing (boots, gloves, and camo)

Specialized clothing that masks your scent and protects you from the elements

Navigation Tools

GPS, compass, maps, anything to help you navigate the terrain

Scent Control

Methods and tools to mask your scent

Safety Harness and Rope

Tools to keep you safe while climbing trees or rocks

First Aid Kit

It could mean the difference between life and death

Flashlight/Headlamp

Hunting lights allow you to see and track in the dark

Game Bag/Field Dressing Kit

A set of tools that allow you to butcher larger game in the field, making it easier to carry

Backpack

A pack that allows you to carry more supplies, provisions, and game

Bow & Bow Accessories

The first thing you'll need is a bow. There are three primary types of bows to choose from; compound, recurve/traditional, and crossbow. Compound bows are the most popular option and our recommendation because they're easier to master than a traditional bow; they also require less strength to draw. 

Many hunting lodges don’t permit the use of crossbows, so we don't recommend them. We advise that you speak to a professional at an archery shop to help you find the right bow for your hunting style.

Bow accessories can vary greatly, as there are many customization options available to the modern bowhunter. You'll need a quiver for your arrows if you're using a compound or recurve bow. 

Other accessories that we recommend you look at are a sight or scope, an arrow rest that holds the arrow in place while drawing and aiming, and release-aids which attach to the bowstring and feature a trigger to release the arrow.

Photo credit: bowhunting.com

Advantages of a Compound Bow

  • Compound bows are light to carry around so you don't tire yourself out quickly.

  • You don't need to possess massive amounts of strength to draw and shoot these bows.

  • Compound bows have a wide variety of customization options and accessories.

Disadvantages of a Compound Bow

  • A decent compound bow, combined with all of the accessories you want, can become quite expensive.

  • A compound bow requires quite a bit of practice before you become proficient, more so than a crossbow.

  • Compound bows need quite a bit of maintenance between hunting seasons, which also adds to their costs.

Who is a Compound Bow Best For?

A compound bow is best for any beginner because it offers the highest versatility as you learn and develop your skills. It's so highly customizable and lends so much to the hunter's proficiency that many veteran hunters choose a compound bow above any other bow type.

A traditional bow is ideal for a hunter on a tight budget or a hunter who prefers a more traditional hunting approach. Modern recurve bows are more than capable of performing on the same level as a compound bow. As a tradeoff, you’ll need to be particularly strong to handle the required draw weights for hunting.

Arrows & Broadheads

Arrows are the other vital part of bowhunting because they serve as your ammunition. The arrows you use will need to match your bow's draw length and weight. We recommend that you consult a specialist at your nearest archery store if you're unsure how to judge these factors.

While you'll use smaller arrows for practice, you'll need to switch to broadhead arrows while hunting. These arrows are mounted with razor-sharp blades on the head and are designed to cut through meat, sinew, and organs to ensure a clean kill.

Photo credit: wasparchery.com

These are also varied in shape and weight and will need to be chosen according to your bow and the quarry that you'll be hunting. Again, we recommend that you consult a professional if you're unsure of which arrows to use. 

Advantages of Broadhead Arrows

  • The sharper tips make it much easier to take down your quarry in one shot.

  • Most modern arrows are made out of durable materials, which allow for easy reuse once they've been cleaned properly.

  • Many hunting arrows are made of lighter materials, such as aluminum or carbon, which make carrying a quiver full of arrows much easier for longer distances.

Disadvantages of Broadhead Arrows

  • There are many different types of arrows available. It can become overwhelming when you’re trying to research which types should be used according to your bow and quarry.

  • If an arrow breaks, it can’t be repaired easily and will need to be replaced.

  • Owing to the various types of broadheads available, it can be challenging to ensure that you have enough of each type with you while hunting.

Photo credit: archershub.com

Who Are Broadhead Arrows Best For?

While there are other types of hunting arrows available, most hunters prefer to use broadhead arrows because they're designed to make the most ethical takedowns. Because of the blades attached to the arrow tips, they're also the best arrow type to use when hunting bigger game—they slice through thick skin easily. 

Owing to the wide variety of broadhead arrow types that are available, you'll be able to find arrows suited for anything, from a larger game such as bears, all the way down to smaller game, such as squirrels.

Treestand

A treestand is a piece of equipment that allows you to sit or stand in a tree and shoot with ease for prolonged periods. There are three different kinds of treestand that hunters use: climbers, hang-ons, and tree saddles. Each type comes with its pros and cons, but most hunters agree that climbers are too bulky to compete with the other two stand types. 

Both climbers and hang-ons are equipped with chairs, while a saddle allows you to sit while suspended with climbing ropes. This means that while a saddle is more mobile, it also doesn't offer a hang-on or climber's long-term comfort.

Advantages of Using a Treestand

  • If placed correctly, a treestand will make it much easier to hide your scent. This will encourage game to cross your path more often.

  • Treestands offer you more height, making it much easier to spot game and get a clear shot.

  • If you pick your spot correctly, you can accumulate quite an impressive haul while staying in one place and conserving energy.

Disadvantages of Using a Treestand

  • Most treestands require quite a bit of packing space when you're carrying them around; they’ll make your pack heavier.

Photo credit: archery360.com

  •  Treestands require a lot of time to set up and make noise. This can scare off any close game.

  • You'll need to put a lot of planning into your stand placement for it to be effective. This also requires knowledge of the grounds where you're hunting.

Who Are Treestands Best For?

Treestands are best used by experienced hunters, owing to the vast amount of planning that goes into using one efficiently. Treestands also require quite a bit of time to set up, although saddles are by far the quickest and allow for the most mobility. 

If you choose not to use a climber, you'll need to carry climbing equipment to help you get up a tree quickly and quietly to ensure that you don't scare off game. Overall, treestands are better left to the veterans and those who know the environment well.

Knife

A knife is an essential item in a hunter's toolkit because it has so many different uses. You need to ensure that you buy one that will last. 

A more traditional, fixed-blade knife (meaning the blade doesn't retract or move; it's fixed to the handle) is fantastic for skinning game and cutting ropes and poles for shelter. If you want something with a little bit more functionality, you should probably look at a multitool. 

Overall, a fixed-blade knife is probably the best starting point for any hunter because it provides the best functionality for traditional hunting methods.

Photo credit: moosenewsblog.com

Advantages of a Fixed Blade

  • It's easy to maintain and will last a long time, provided you look after it.

  • A fixed-blade knife is versatile because you can use it to skin all manner of game, from smaller animals such as rabbits to larger ones such as deer.

  • These knives are much easier to clean because they don’t have moving parts.

Disadvantages of a Fixed-Blade Knife

  • These knives are longer than other folding knives and need to be carried in a sheath. This means they can get in the way when moving around or sitting.

  • Because of their size, fixed-blade knives are more difficult to pack and transport than folding knives.

  • They’re difficult and more expensive to repair because fixed-blade knives are made as one solid unit.

Who Are Fixed-Blade Knives Best For?

In general, these knives are best for new hunters and veterans alike. The type of knife that you choose to carry depends entirely on your preferences and needs. A smaller blade does work better for smaller game and a multitool comes in handy when you need a screwdriver or other tools. 

Ultimately, the type of knife you use depends on you, but a knife is absolutely essential when hunting. In particular, a fixed-blade knife offers so much durability and versatility that makes it stand out from the pack.

Essential Clothing

There are two factors to look at when considering your clothing while hunting; one is camouflage and the other is utility. Most hunters wear orange jackets while moving so that they're visible to other hunters. They’ll take the orange off and stow it once they've reached their hunting spot so they blend into the forest. 

The other factor is utility; you need to make sure that you have gear that withstands the elements. Comfortable boots are vital, as well as a few pairs of thick socks.

Advantages of Hunting Clothing

  • Camouflage helps to hide you from your quarry and ensures that you can get close enough to land your shot.

  • Good hunting gear will help you manage your perspiration levels and keep you dry with the proper base layers. 

  • Hunters suffer from hypothermia quite often, so you should always make sure that your outer layers are warm and waterproof.

Disadvantages of Hunting Clothing

  • Clothing, in general, can be quite heavy to carry around. Hunting gear is even heavier than everyday clothing because of the thicker materials it's made from. You'll need to consider the items that you carry with you carefully.

  • Hunting clothing can be expensive to replace, so make sure to look after your gear.

  • The wrong pair of boots can cause massive health problems, so you'll need to take extra care when buying your hunting boots and socks.

Who Is Hunting Clothing Best For?

Proper hunting gear is essential for every hunter. Everyday clothes aren’t suitable for hunting for many reasons, the most prominent being durability and functionality. Hunting gear is tailored to extended stays in the wilderness and remaining as stealthy as possible while tracking game.

There are also pieces of gear that will assist with suppressing your scent. There’s also gear that will help with surviving the elements, whether it’s a frigid night or a cloudburst.

Navigation Tools

We all carry a device that holds maps of every kind: GPS apps, compass apps, and any other navigation apps that you can think of, all in your smartphone. Even so, when you're out in the wilderness, you're not always guaranteed to get a signal on your phone. 

Photo credit: outdoorgearonly.com

This can cause massive problems, especially if you're not familiar with the area you're hunting in. Therefore, it's recommended that you carry a handheld GPS device because these are designed to work in the wilderness where there isn't much technology. A compass is also handy, especially when tracking game.

Advantages of a Smartphone as a Navigation Device

  • You have everything on one device, eliminating the need to carry multiple devices.

  • You can download navigation apps specifically designed for hunting; there are map apps that allow you to download maps and use them offline.

  • If you run into trouble, you have your phone readily available.

Disadvantages of a Smartphone as a Navigation Device

  • You can lose signal very easily, which will cause issues with most navigation apps.

  • You'll need to carry power banks to be able to charge your phone.

  • Modern smartphones make noise and often have more than one volume control. If you don't silence it properly, it could cause problems.

Who Are Navigation Tools Best For?

Every hunter should carry some form of navigation tool, whether it's a smartphone, a handheld GPS tracker, a compass, or a good old paper map. Getting lost in a forest can have dire consequences, so you need to be aware of where you are and where you're going. 

Furthermore, we strongly advise that you carry a handheld GPS or compass as a backup if you're choosing to work with your phone.

Scent Control

It's crucial to minimize the dispersion of your scent, as this frightens away game. Remember that most animals have an elevated sense of smell and will become skittish when presented with a scent they're not familiar with. There are many different ways to control your scent; one of the most prevalent ones is your clothing. 

Photo credit: bonecollector.com

Most hunting clothing is designed to contain scent, but you need to make sure that you wash it with unscented laundry detergent; some hunting shops stock scent-controlled laundry detergent. Furthermore, make sure to use unscented deodorant. Use a lot, because a dirty body emits a more pungent odor than a clean one. 

Lastly, watch what you eat, as there are plenty of foods that will emit strange smells, like garlic.

Advantages of Scent Control

  • You'll see more game come your way because they won't pick up your scent.

  • You'll be able to get closer to your quarry, making that perfect shot much more effortless.

  • Reasonable scent control ensures good hygiene, which is always a bonus.

Disadvantages of Scent Control

  • It's difficult to gauge whether you've minimized your scent enough.

  • The specific laundry detergents and deodorants that work the best at scent control can be difficult to find and cost more than their everyday counterparts.

  • Ensuring good personal hygiene is time-consuming when in the wilderness.

Who is Scent Control Best For?

Every hunter should work at controlling their scent because of the overwhelming benefits. It may take some trial and error before you manage to become proficient at it, but it will make your hunting experience much more enjoyable. 

There are many tips and tricks that go hand in hand with using the proper clothing, such as standing downwind so that your scent is blown towards your quarry.

Safety Harness & Rope

The need for a safety harness goes hand-in-hand with the use of a treestand. If you choose to use a treestand, then it's vital that you also wear a suitable safety harness, as this will prevent you from sustaining severe injuries if you happen to fall. 

A durable rope is the other piece of this setup. You'll attach your harness to it and it will literally become your lifeline, tethering you to your tree. However, if you aren't using a treestand, we still recommend that you carry a rope with you, as there are many situations where it'll come in handy.

Advantages of Carrying a Rope & Safety Harness

  • Both items offer a layer of protection from horrible falls and give you massive security when climbing trees or rock faces.

  • A rope is a versatile tool that can be used in many different situations such as shelter building, fixing a backpack, or assisting in first aid procedures.
  • A rope is easy to pack and won't take up much space in a backpack. It can even be looped through the straps and hang over the side.

Disadvantages of Carrying a Rope & Safety Harness

  • A safety harness is bulky and will take up quite a bit of room in a backpack. It's also not always needed if you're not using a treestand.

  • Even a strong rope will break if there's a weakness in it or if you put too much strain on it. The results of this can be dire.

  • An ill-fitting safety harness will be excruciatingly uncomfortable, especially if worn for prolonged periods.

Who is a Safety Harness & Rope Best For?

Any hunter who uses treestands should carry both rope and a safety harness because even the most surefooted person only needs to slip once to suffer massive injuries. A safety harness and strong rope will help to minimize these injuries. Another situation that demands the use of these two items is if you're hunting in a rocky or mountainous region where you'll be climbing a lot. 

The rope should be carried by all hunters, though, regardless of the situation. Its versatility and portability can be lifesaving.

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is imperative while hunting. Accidents happen to everyone, and the wilderness is an unforgiving place, regardless of where you are. We advise you to take a wilderness first aid course, as well as pack a first aid kit so that you're able to treat injuries and illnesses effectively. 

Furthermore, it's always better to pack your first aid kit instead of buying a ready-made one from a hunting store. This ensures that the products are top-quality, and you can tailor your kit to your health concerns.

Photo credit: huntershandbook.com

Advantages of Building Your Own First Aid Kit

  • You're able to choose exactly what to add and ensure that any medications you may require are present.

  • You're aware of the quality of the supplies and the quantities of each type. This gives you knowledge of what to be aware of while hunting.

  • You can customize the kit's size to fit in with your packing space and carrying limits.

Disadvantages of Building Your Own First Aid Kit

  • This can be time-consuming, and you may struggle to decide what should be included and what should be left out.

  • You’ll need some background knowledge on first aid methods and techniques and on the environment where you'll be hunting. This can be daunting for a new hunter.

  • Most first aid kits available at hunting shops have been made by hunters and will include everything you may need.

Who is a First Aid Kit Best For?

Every hunter should be carrying a first aid kit. While hunting in the wilderness, you're in a dangerous environment where anything could happen. Hunters also prefer to split up to ensure stealth. If you happen to injure yourself while alone, you’ll need the tools to attend to your injury while you wait for help. 

There are many ways to potentially injure yourself, and even the most experienced hunters will never leave their first aid kit at home.

Flashlight/Headlamp

While deer hunting at night is illegal in the USA, there are animals that you're allowed to hunt then. Most people prefer to hunt during the day, but will still use a hunting light to get into their treestands before first light. A hunting light is usually equipped with a red light because it helps the human eye with night vision and doesn't spook animals as much as white light. 

Photo credit: manmakesfire.com

Blue light is also common in hunting lights because it illuminates blood, making tracking prey much easier. In a flashlight versus a headlight argument, this is entirely up to you and your preferences.

Advantages of Carrying a Flashlight/Headlamp

  • The most obvious advantage is that it'll help you see in darker situations, like when you're climbing into your treestand before the sun rises.

  • The red, blue, and, on some hunting lights, green lights help with tracking and with seeing game at night without frightening them away.

  • In poorly lit parts of a forest, a light will help to avoid possible pitfalls, even during the day.

Disadvantages of Carrying a Flashlight/Headlamp

  • A hunting light isn’t always needed, especially if you don't plan to hunt or navigate the terrain at night.

  • While most people claim that the red light doesn't scare animals easily, any light will alert them to your presence.

  • Some hunting lights can take up quite a bit of space in your backpack.

Who is a Flashlight/Headlamp Best For?

Anyone who plans to hunt legally at night will find that a hunting light is vital; the blue light is particularly beneficial because it enhances your tracking abilities. The other group of people who benefit greatly from a flashlight or headlamp is the group who prefers to get into position before sunrise, whether in a treestand or somewhere on the ground. 

Having a light will help prevent noise because you'll be able to see where to step to avoid making a racket.

Game Bag/Field Dressing Kit

A field dressing kit is a set of knives that you use when butchering your kills while out in the field. A game bag is used to store the meat. These bags are usually made out of reusable materials and will need to keep the meat fresh and free from dirt and insects to avoid contamination. 

Photo credit: realtree.com

While hunting larger game, such as deer, a good field dressing kit is essential because you won't be able to carry the entire deer by yourself. Most kits will also include gloves, a tarp to work on, wet wipes, and an extra cord to tie the bags with.

Advantages of a Field Dressing Kit

  • Allows you to hunt larger game and carry the meat/pelts easily.

  • Keeps the meat clean and free from contamination until you can bring it back to civilization.

  • A competent set of knives will make field dressing a kill much easier and faster.

Disadvantages of a Field Dressing Kit

  • A field dressing kit can be bulky and difficult to carry.

  • Knives require frequent sharpening to remain efficient.

  • The wrong game bags can spell disaster for your meat.

Who is a Field Dressing Kit Best For?

If you're looking to hunt larger game, such as deer, then a field dressing kit is essential. You'll need to ensure that you know how to dress a deer appropriately; otherwise, you can damage the kill and lower the meat's quality. If you're hunting small game, then maybe you can give the kit a skip. Even so, we still recommend that you carry bags for your kills to protect them from bacteria and scavengers.

Backpack

The most basic hunting tool is a backpack to store your hunting hauls, provisions, and other items. Many different backpacks are tailored towards hunting but choosing the right backpack for you is essential. The first thing to make sure of is that the backpack has a waist strap. 

Photo credit: mensgear.net

This strap takes the brunt of the weight and removes the strain off your shoulders. The pack's size also depends on how long you’re hunting, what you're hunting and carrying, and your body's limitations.

Advantages of Carrying a Backpack

  • You're able to dress your bigger kills out in the field and carry the skins and meat back with ease.

  • You're able to carry more provisions, water, and essential supplies.

  • You're presented with more options regarding what you choose to take with you into the field because you can carry more.

Disadvantages of Carrying a Backpack

  • More strain is put on your body because of the weight.

  • Inexperienced hunters will be tempted to pack unnecessary supplies.

  • The wrong backpack for your body can cause lasting health problems.

Who is a Backpack Best For?

Most hunters will choose to carry a backpack with them because of the versatility that it offers. Make sure to select the suitable pack for the situation though; it doesn't make sense to take a massive backpack for a day hunt, nor should you take a smaller pack for a ten-day hunt in the wilderness. 

Choosing What To Carry In Your Backpack

Hunters have different opinions on what the most important items are to bring for a hunt, and apparently, it takes years of experience in the field to figure out.

Some of the items we've discussed may not be really an "essential" for some hunters. So, in this section, we scale down the list of items that are completely necessary to be in your backpack—whether you're a seasoned or a novice hunter.

Provisions - Food & Water

It's imperative that you stay hydrated and nourished while hunting because of the energy that your body is expelling. Try to stay away from perishable food, not only because you run the risk of it expiring in your pack but also because it'll smell. Focus on bringing non-perishables that require less packing space but will keep you going while you hunt.

Photo credit: dialedinhunter.com

Hunting License

This may seem like an obvious item, but it can’t be overlooked, as the consequences of leaving it behind could mean the difference between an excellent hunting trip and a horrible one. You'll need to take a bowhunting course before being issued a license, but this ultimately benefits you, as well as those around you.

Field Dressing Kit

If you're hunting large game, such as deer, then this is essential. Hauling massive kills around is exhausting, but with a field dressing kit, you'll be able to carry your hauls around with ease.

Rangefinder

A rangefinder allows you to gauge the distance between you and your mark, which helps considerably, as arrows drop over long distances. An angle-compensating rangefinder does the math for you when hunting from a treestand or hill and will help you hunt with higher accuracy.

Photo credit: outdoorlife.com

Binoculars

Binoculars help you to spot game in the distance or find well-camouflaged game in a wooded area. Depending on your hunting environment, you'll need binoculars with specific magnifications; an open area will require higher magnifications.

Navigation Tools

The wilderness can be challenging to navigate, even for someone who knows the land well. Therefore, navigation tools such as a GPS, compass, or map are vital to ensuring that you don't get lost while out hunting.

Essential Bowhunting Gear Checklist

In case you don't want to miss any important items for your hunt day, here's a free checklist you can use. 

Photo credit: bowhunting.com

Bottom Line

The first thing that any good hunter should focus on is safety. Items such as first aid kits, clothing, and food and water should always remain at the top of your list when preparing for hunting season. A functional bow and the right arrows for the game you're going after are also paramount to ensuring an enjoyable hunt. 

People Also Ask

While we've done our best to give you a comprehensive guide, we know that there are probably a few more questions burning in your mind. Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that we see. If you don't see your question here, then please feel free to contact us.

What Pound Bow Should I Use For Deer Hunting?

The general weight needed to take down a deer is about 40 pounds. You can adjust this according to what you can handle; some compound bows can go up to 70 pounds.

Is Camo Necessary When Bowhunting?

This depends on the game that you're choosing to hunt. Birds tend to spot a hunter very easily; thus, camo becomes essential. Deer find it difficult to distinguish between colors but can see incredibly well, so camo is recommended but not essential. Overall, camo isn't essential in most situations but is always recommended.

How Do You Carry All Of Your Equipment While On a Hunt?

This may take some practice while you figure out what's essential and what can be left behind. The most important thing here is selecting a backpack that suits your needs and making sure that you only pack the essentials.



My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.